close up of a senior woman's eyes

February is Age-Related Macular Degeneration/Low Vision Awareness Month. Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is one of the leading causes of vision loss for people over the age of 50. If you are part of that age group, keep your eyes healthy and your vision strong by watching for the symptoms of AMD and visiting your eye doctor on a regular basis. Here are some answers to common questions about AMD, based on information from the National Eye Institute.

What is Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)?

AMD damages the retina, at the back of the eye, which is responsible for sharp vision. For this reason, AMD causes your center field of vision (what you see when you look straight ahead) to become blurry or out-of-focus. With AMD, things can appear less bright, and you may have a darker spot in the center of your vision. AMD does not cause complete blindness, but it can cause you to lose sight in the center. It doesn’t affect your peripheral vision, the things you see when looking left and right out of the sides of your eyes, but if you lose your ability to see things straight ahead, it can be a great loss, making it difficult to do even the simplest of daily tasks.

How do I know if I have AMD?

Early AMD is hard to detect on your own. It doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms or vision loss until the later stages. The only way to catch AMD early is through regular visits with your eye doctor for thorough, dilated eye exams. Once AMD has progressed into the late stages, vision loss can be severe. According to Prevent Blindness, if you have AMD, you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Straight lines, such as telephone poles or the sides of buildings, appear wavy.
  • Type in books, magazines or newspapers appears blurry.
  • Dark or empty spaces may block the center of your vision.

Am I at risk for AMD?

Seniors over age 60 have the highest risk of AMD. (It rarely strikes anyone under the age of 40.) Other risk factors include:

  • Smoking. Those who smoke are twice as likely to get AMD.
  • Race. Caucasians have the highest risk of AMD, but after age 65, African-American women are also at high risk.
  • Family history. If you have a family history of AMD, you may be at risk.

Is there anything I can do to avoid getting AMD or to slow its progression?

For prevention of AMD, some studies suggest that a healthy diet and exercise will help keep your vision strong. If you smoke, quitting will be the best thing you can do to reduce your risk of AMD (and the best thing you can do for your overall health as well).

Once you have been diagnosed with AMD, there is no cure, but often the disease progresses slowly over the years. Sometimes the only treatment eye doctors recommend is a yearly checkup to make sure the disease isn’t progressing. If AMD begins to affect your eyesight, there are treatments available that may slow down the progression, such as medications, injections or laser surgery. Consult with your eye doctor to find the best treatment for you.

It’s difficult to cope with the symptoms of aging, and vision loss is often one of the things that seniors fear the most. Vision problems can lead to a loss of independence and the ability to participate in daily activities. It’s important to keep your eyes healthy and be diligent about visiting your eye doctor regularly. If you’re at risk of AMD or notice symptoms, mention this to your doctor during your next visit. It’s worth the effort to keep your eyes as healthy as possible for as long as possible, and often, it’s as easy as a yearly visit to your eye doctor.